Saturday, February 26, 2022

Oscar Wilde, Short Stories


Opening Passages: Just a selection. From "The Happy Prince":

High above the city, on a tall column, stood the statue of the Happy Prince. He was gilded all over with thin leaves of fine gold, for eyes he had two bright sapphires, and a large red ruby glowed on his sword-hilt. 

 He was very much admired indeed. “He is as beautiful as a weathercock,” remarked one of the Town Councillors who wished to gain a reputation for having artistic tastes; “only not quite so useful,” he added, fearing lest people should think him unpractical, which he really was not. (p. 15)

From The Canterville Ghost:

When Mr. Hiram B. Otis, the American Minister, bought Canterville Chase, every one told him he was doing a very foolish thing, as there was no doubt at all that the place was haunted. Indeed, Lord Canterville himself, who was a man of the most punctilious honour, had felt it his duty to mention the fact to Mr. Otis when they came to discuss terms. (p. 127)
From "The Ballad of Reading Gaol":

He did not wear his scarlet coat,
For blood and wine are red,
And blood and wine were on his hands
When they found him with the dead,
The poor dead woman whom he loved,
And murdered in her bed. 

 He walked amongst the Trial Men
In a suit of shabby grey;
A cricket cap was on his head,
And his step seemed light and gay;
But I never saw a man who looked
So wistfully at the day. (p. 359)

Summary: We mostly associate Oscar Wilde with wit and charm, but while there is wit in his short stories, they are primarily heavy on charm. They mostly have a whimsical, fairy-tale feel, and indeed, some of them are quite enjoyable fairytales. They are noticeably artificial in character -- Wilde has a tendency to dwell on beautiful descriptions and deliberately constructed subversions rather than push the story forward -- but the artificial fairytale is a respectable genre, and some of Wilde's are among the best. I thought that "The Nightingale and the Rose" and "The Young King" were the best of these. "The Nightingale and the Rose" captures in a heart-rending form a common theme in Wilde -- that nobody gives beauty and love their due appreciation -- as in it the nightingale gives her life for a true love that turns out not to exist. But, of course, the real beauty and love are in the nightingale's willingness to do so. In "The Young King" we find another common theme, that spiritual beauty is greater than material beauty, even though the former is also often not appreciated for what it is.

Among the more substantive short stories were Lord Arthur Savile's Crime, The Canterville Ghost, and The Portrait of Mr. W. H. The best of these, and indeed, I think of all of Wilde's short works, is the The Canterville Ghost. An American family buys a haunted mansion, and the ghost finds that the American merchant class is not quite so easily haunted as the British nobility. Wilde had just recently come from America, so he is spoofing American approaches to things, and much of this is quite funny. But what really makes the story is that it is also a story about an unappreciated artist. Wilde writes the Canterville Ghost as an accomplished actor, the haunted house his stage, and the Otises are like pragmatic managers and owners who, philistines to the core, have no appreciation at all for the finer points of the art. The ghost just wants to turn out great, highly melodramatic performances, and the Otises just keep ruining them, and, what is worse, clearly don't even recognize a true artist when they see him on the stage. It is, I think, the most perfect comic ghost story ever written.

A minor point of interest. The subtitle of the work is "A Hylo-Idealistic Romance". Hylo-Idealism was a philosophical position, mostly of popular appeal, that attempted to solve the mind-body problem by synthesizing materialism and idealism (hence the name). It held that matter was just the presupposition of ideas and ideas were just the manifestations of matter, and (in its most common form) that both were expressions and effects of one unified self. I find convincing none of the common reasons given by literary critics for the association with this tale; they usually depend on assuming a much cruder version than was commonly put forward even in very popular venues. Part of it may just be that Wilde is playing on the word -- the materialistic Otises being unified with the spiritualistic Canterville Ghost -- but (related to this) it could also be that Wilde had in mind the sometimes very public disputes between Theosophists, associated in the public mind with ghosts and seances, and the Hylo-Idealists, whom they regarded as crypto-materialists, in which case one could see the story as being built on a clash between two versions of reality, one Theosophistic and another Hylo-Idealistic.

I often look into adaptations. The Canterville Ghost is a popular one -- a non-horror ghost comedy that is about an unappreciated artist is inevitably going to be of interest to people who work on stage and screen. I picked the one from 1996 starring Neve Campbell and Patrick Stewart, and liked it quite a bit. It's less funny than the actual story; much of the humor of the story is that we directly get the ghost's melodramatic artist-with-hurt-feelings perspective, none of which can be easily translated to the screen. But some mild humor remains, and the adaptation did an excellent job of capturing a lot of the charm of the story. The updatings were interesting, and perhaps unnecessary -- they turned Mr. Otis into an unbelieving physicist. In the text, it doesn't take much to convince the Otises of the ghost's existence; much of the humor, and the ghost's indignation, arises from the fact that once they are presented with the evidence, they just take it completely in stride and try to work around it, like discovering that your nice new house has a problem with a rabbit in the garden or a temperamental furnace. Wilde is, I think, right that this makes a better story than dragging out the unbelief. But the movie does have its charms. To put it on screen, they had to build up the relationship between Virginia and the ghost, and I liked a number of ways they did it, including letting Stewart do some Shakespeare.

The Portrait of Mr. W. H. was also excellent. I think I've read it before, but if so I didn't appreciate it. What struck me this time was how very much it was like something that Jorge Luis Borges would write -- all done with a lighter touch, less ponderousness, than a Borges tale, but the idea, of a fictional interpretation of a set of texts, and the execution, in which people sometimes believe it so much that they forge evidence for it, but persuading someone of its truth makes one lose one's own belief in it, were very much along the lines of what you might imagine Borges to do.

The short story collection I read also had "The Ballad of Reading Gaol". Wilde, of course, had been sentenced to hard labor in Reading Gaol, so there is a vividly realistic strand showing through Wilde's Romanticism here which gives the tale a sharper bite than most of Wilde's stories have. However, the Wildesque habit of seeing situations in terms of their irony and poetry is also very strong here, and thematically it bears a number similarities to Wilde's De Profundis, which has previously come up in the Fortnightly Book. Of all the short stories, the poem is most closely linked to the fairytales, because it is perhaps Wilde's strongest statement of an idea that also runs through his fairytales, that the truest form of beauty is the spiritual beauty found with the poor and broken-hearted, because it is through the broken heart that God shines forth.

Favorite Passage:

‘My dear sir,’ said Mr. Otis, ‘I really must insist on your oiling those chains, and have brought you for that purpose a small bottle of the Tammany Rising Sun Lubricator. It is said to be completely efficacious upon one application, and there are several testimonials to that effect on the wrapper from some of our most eminent native divines. I shall leave it here for you by the bedroom candles, and will be happy to supply you with more should you require it.’ With these words the United States Minister laid the bottle down on a marble table, and, closing his door, retired to rest. 

 For a moment the Canterville ghost stood quite motionless in natural indignation; then, dashing the bottle violently upon the polished floor, he fled down the corridor, uttering hollow groans, and emitting a ghastly green light. Just, however, as he reached the top of the great oak staircase, a door was flung open, two little white-robed figures appeared, and a large pillow whizzed past his head! There was evidently no time to be lost, so, hastily adopting the Fourth Dimension of Space as a means of escape, he vanished through the wainscoting, and the house became quite quiet. (p. 135)

Recommendation: Highly Recommended.


Oscar Wilde, Short Stories, Sirius (London: 2018).

Friday, February 25, 2022

Dashed Off V

Clothing works best as a metaphor when both transitive causation and extrinsic measure are in view.

onomatopoeia as a kind of metaphor

Sanctity gives a higher aspect to anything it directly touches, even genius or good taste.

The mind never perceives any existing thing without relation to another.

All of our perceptions blur or blend into each other in various ways.

The meaningfulness of life is related to the lovableness of life.

Structures rule out possible functionalities, histories do not treat all functionalities as equally salient.

the self-deceptive dream of the infinitely manipulable body

helping the body heal itself or removing what impedes its doing so, versus imposing an artificial form on the body

consensus gentium argument for natural ends

links between propositions
(1) symmetric on the part of the propositions
(2) asymmetric on the part of the propositions
(3) symmetric on the part of the mind holding them
(4) asymmetric on the part of the mind holding them

Llull's method as based on the assumption of the consistency of good

political offices as alienable rights (cf. Rosmini)

The human will adapts and reshapes ends; it does not create purposes out of nothing.

"Watch and pray: there you see prudence and simplicity reconciled." Rosmini

equitable process vs equitable outcome approaches

common carrier // public accommodation

constraints on language
(1) from nature of sign
(2) from nature of media
(3) from requirements of human life
(4) from functioning of senses
(5) from limits of memory
(6) from features of the world

Ps 23 & sacraments (Cat Hodge): still waters - baptism; restores soul - penance; guides  - confirmation; fear no evil - unction; rod and staff - orders; table - eucharist; anoint with oil - orders; cup - eucharist; goodness and mercy - matrimony; dwell -unction
-- Think of this in terms of reading Ps 23 in the person of the whole Church

the virtue of faith as interpretant for signs of divine work, including grace

prudence, art, etc., as interpretants

In survival of the fittest, victory goes to the one who cheats.

compenitence with the souls of purgatory

The last task toward sainthood is enduring.

three facets of being: naturae, intentionale, objectivum

By knowing the physical universe, we raise it to greater Godlikeness.

similitude as successful representation

cause: quality, action, passion
measure: quantity, when, where, situs

People obsess about being smart because it is easier (and also easier to fake) than being good or holy.

Thomson's violinist has horrific implications if read as an allegory of Germans and Jews rather than of mother and child -- which it can be, because it is in fact an argument that it is morally permissible to kill even those with a right to life, if they are seen as a particular kind of burden on your choices.

The ground of the sign is what manifests.

"For we are all collectively his temple and individually his temples, since he deigns to dwell both in the concord of all and in each individual." Augustine (CD 10.3)

Lumen gentium: bishops are
(1) the visible
(2) source
(3) and foundation
(4) of unity
(5) in their own particular churches
(6) which are constituted after the model of the universal church.

We are all in some way pro statu exeuntium, but we are most properly so in sickness that highlights our mortality by making clear the danger of our actual death.

purgatory & gratia perfectae sanationis spiritualis

Sacramental unction completes (consummates penance and also the whole Christian life qua penitential.

"When he was creating the world, he looked to adorn it with icons of himself." Ephrem

the pattern of inference [only possibility discovered -> probability]

'Spiritual but not religious' is like 'citizen without a society' or 'soldier without an army'. We can make sense of it, but there is something inherently off about it.

Prayer is spiritual warfare; there is vigilance-and-self-defense prayer and minor skirmish prayer, but there is also full-scale battle prayer, and you do not want to find yourself alone in the midst of the latter.

presumptive liberty, due process, limited power to punish

The reasons for moral and political equalities are always God, reason, and (on occasion) practical compromise. All others fail, but indeed few others are rarely even proposed.

Clothing can easily be a sign because it already has a triadic relational structure.

disciplina as system of objects

Oral traditions are in general not purely oral; they are intertwined with material traditions that extend them.

firms as beings of reason marked by legal or customary signs so as to be virtual quasi-property

Error non habet ius because there must be a connection between right and true.

Dt 16:16 & pilgrimage

Christ's resurrection as exemplar cause of our resurrection

"Sovereignty is to the state as freedom to the person." Edith Stein

Christ: unity of divine nature and human nature in the Word
Church: unity of divine person and human person in the Word

'The People' as citizenry, as militia, as represented

The external Church is the internal Church working itself out into the world with the gospel; the internal Church is the external Church working its way inward to God.

There is an irony that goes with teaching; we see this clearly in both Socrates and Confucius.

Better truth from a hypocrite than lie from an angel.

"Nothing comes into existence by virtue of a logical ground, but only by a cause. Every cause terminates in a freely effecting cause." Kierkegaard

Much of the secular world is still drawing on gifts it only has due to infant baptism and half-forgotten early catechesis.

Much existentialism displaces features of faith onto natural will and reason, and thus misplaces them.

Every kind of determinism, when fully pressed, eventually introduces a swerve.

Only in Christ is the separation of external and internal in teaching wholly overcome.

In the nature of every thing lie implicit its possible relations to all other things.

In the Church, the opposition of teacher and student is overcome, as the students become incorporated into their Teacher.

Autonomy is something that can only be had within a divine order.

baptism of water: Christ's Baptism
baptism of blood: Cross
baptism of desire: approaching the Baptist
baptism of vicarious desire: Christ's Circumcision

A bishop could become the successor of St. Peter
(1) by appointment (e.g., Linus)
(2) by election (as usual
---- (a) diocesan (the old election by deacons of Rome)
---- (b) global (collegial)
---- ---- (i) of Cardinal bishops (our current form)
---- ---- (ii) of all bishops
(3) by default (only bishop left)

People are not machines to be fixed; they must be helped to grow well.

Wisdom often requires drawing on hints and possibilities as well as what is known.

Politics by its very nature is not its own end.

Wednesday, February 23, 2022

A Mysterious Unrest

 Error is always superficial and never penetrates deep into human nature. Persuasion about error, no matter how well entrenched, is often full of uncertainties and doubts which, although apparently solved, continue to re-appear. A mysterious unrest never really abandons those in the grip of error, although it has no strength in itself to turn them back to the peace of truth.

[Antonio Rosmini, Certainty, Clear and Watson, trs., Rosmini House (Durham: 1991) p. 209.]

Tuesday, February 22, 2022

Doctors of the Church

My last Doctors of the Church post was in 2015, shortly after the addition of St. Gregory of Narek, but is now obsolete, since on January 21 of this year, Pope Francis officially recognized St. Irenaeus of Lyons as a Doctor of the Church. So an update is in order.

'Doctor of the Church' is a special, officially given, liturgical title in Rome's Universal Calendar: it indicates (1) saints in the universal calendar who (2) were and are doctors (i.e., theological teachers) and who (3) have left theological writings that (4) are of extraordinary quality and considerable value for the whole community of the faithful. It originally grew up on its own as applied to a small group of especially important theologians (Athanasius, Basil, Nazianzen, Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great). It was later conferred on Thomas Aquinas, and shortly afterward, Bonaventure, in order to recognize that these theologians were, in their own ways and according to the formats of their time, teachers of the Church of the same caliber as the prior Doctors of the Church. It has since been extended outward by official recognition of a theologian as being in the same class. Because of (2), it is traditional not to consider martyrs for the title, despite a number of notable theologians in that category who fit all of the other criteria, because 'martyr' is a higher liturgical title than 'doctor' -- martyrs would never be liturgically given a Mass for doctors, only for martyrs, and thus the title would be otiose. Irenaeus is a weird case with respect to this point. We don't know how he died, but he is often liturgically commemorated as a martyr, so he is ambiguous. I don't know how the conflict between his common liturgical commemoration and his new liturgical title will be handled; and frankly, I rather suspect that it was done without considering the matter at all. But we will see.  (3) is likewise rather restrictive; there have been some excellent theologians who don't qualify because we know of their work only indirectly and not from any writings they left (St. Macrina comes immediately to mind). And, of course, there are extraordinarily important theologians who aren't saints on the calendar (Tertullian, Origen, Theodore Abu-Qurra, Leo XIII). What follows are various lists in which different kinds of theological periods and overlaps can be observed.

I. By Death Year
(sometimes approximate; year in parentheses is the year they were officially recognized as Doctor of the Church; to show gaps, asterisks indicate approximate length of intervening interval between death years, each asterisk indicating approximately a decade)

202 Irenaeus of Lyons (2022)
368 Hilary of Poitiers (1851)
373 Athanasius
373 Ephrem the Syrian (1920)
379 Basil of Caesarea
387 Cyril of Jerusalem (1883)
390 Gregory Nazianzen
397 Ambrose of Milan
407 John Chrysostom
420 Jerome
430 Augustine
444 Cyril of Alexandria (1883)
450 Peter Chrysologus (1729)
461 Leo the Great (1754)
604 Gregory the Great
636 Isidore of Seville (1722)
735 Bede (1899)
749 John Damascene (1883)
1003 Gregory of Narek (2015)
1072 Peter Damian (1828)
1109 Anselm (1720)
1153 Bernard of Clairvaux (1830)
1179 Hildegard von Bingen (2012)
1231 Anthony of Padua (1946)
1274 Thomas Aquinas (1568)
1274 Bonaventure (1588)
1280 Albert the Great (1931)
1379 Catherine of Siena (1970)
1569 John of Avila (2012)
1582 Teresa of Avila (1970)
1591 John of the Cross (1926)
1597 Peter Canisius (1925)
1619 Lawrence of Brindisi (1959)
1621 Robert Bellarmine (1931)
1622 Francis de Sales (1877)
1787 Alphonsus Liguori (1871)
1897 Therese of Lisieux (1997)

II. By Birth Year
(often approximate, especially for earlier figures)

130 Irenaeus
293 Athanasius
300 Hilary of Poitiers
306 Ephrem the Syrian
313 Cyril of Jerusalem
329 Gregory Nazianzen
330 Basil of Caesarea
337 Ambrose of Milan
347 Jerome
349 John Chrysostom
354 Augustine
376 Cyril of Alexandria
380 Peter Chrysologus
400 Leo I
540 Gregory I
560 Isidore of Seville
672 Bede
676 John Damascene
951 Gregory of Narek
1007 Peter Damian
1033 Anselm of Canterbury
1090 Bernard of Clairvaux
1098 Hildegard von Bingen
1195 Anthony of Padua
1206 Albert the Great (although perhaps as early as 1193)
1221 Bonaventure
1225 Thomas Aquinas
1347 Catherine of Siena
1500 John of Avila
1515 Teresa of Avila
1521 Peter Canisius
1542 John of the Cross
1542 Robert Bellarmine
1559 Lawrence of Brindisi
1567 Francis de Sales
1696 Alphonsus Liguori
1873 Therese of Lisieux

III. By Year of Recognition

[Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzen, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great all received it by organically developed custom]

1568 Thomas Aquinas
1588 Bonaventure
1720 Anselm of Canterbury
1722 Isidore of Seville
1729 Peter Chrysologus
1754 Leo the Great
1828 Peter Damian
1830 Bernard of Clairvaux
1851 Hilary of Poitiers
1871 Alphonsus Liguori
1877 Francis de Sales
1883 Cyril of Alexandria, Cyril of Jerusalem, John Damascene
1899 Bede
1920 Ephrem the Syrian
1925 Peter Canisius
1926 John of the Cross
1931 Albert the Great, Robert Bellarmine
1946 Anthony of Padua
1959 Lawrence of Brindisi
1970 Catherine of Siena, Teresa of Avila
1997 Therese of Lisieux
2012 John of Avila, Hildegard of Bingen
2015 Gregory of Narek
2022 Irenaeus of Lyons

IV. By Number of Years from Death to Recognition
(Color Code, very rough: Patristic Era, Scholastic Era, Counter-Reformation)

[Athanasius, Basil of Caesarea, Gregory Nazianzen, John Chrysostom, Ambrose, Jerome, Augustine, and Gregory the Great all received it by organically developed custom]

1820 Irenaeus of Lyons

1547 Ephrem of Syria

1496 Cyril of Jerusalem
1483 Hilary of Poitiers
1439 Cyril of Alexandria

1293 Leo I
1279 Peter Chrysologus

1164 Bede
1134 John Damascene

1086 Isidore of Seville
1012 Gregory of Narek

833 Hildegard of Bingen

756 Peter Damian
715 Anthony of Padua

677 Bernard of Clairvaux
651 Albert the Great
611 Anselm of Canterbury

591 Catherine of Siena

443 John of Avila

388 Teresa of Avila
340 Lawrence of Brindisi
335 John of the Cross
328 Peter Canisius
314 Bonaventure
310 Robert Bellarmine

294 Thomas Aquinas
255 Francis de Sales

100 Therese of Lisieux

84 Alphonsus Liguori

V. By Papal Reign of Recognition

225. Pius V
Thomas Aquinas

227. Sixtus V

243. Clement XI
Anselm of Canterbury

244. Innocent XIII
Isidore of Seville

245. Benedict XIII
Peter Chrysologus

247. Benedict XIV
Leo the Great

252. Leo XII
Peter Damian

253. Pius VIII
Bernard of Clairvaux

255. Pius IX
Hilary of Poitiers
Alphonsus Liguori
Francis de Sales

256. Leo XIII
Cyril of Alexandria
Cyril of Jerusalem
John Damascene

258. Benedict XV
Ephrem the Syrian

259. Pius XI
Peter Canisius
John of the Cross
Albert the Great
Robert Bellarmine

260. Pius XII
Anthony of Padua

261. John XXIII
Lawrence of Brindisi

262. Paul VI
Catherine of Siena
Teresa of Avila

264. John Paul II
Therese of Lisieux

265. Benedict XVI
John of Avila
Hildegard of Bingen

266. Francis I
Gregory of Narek
Irenaeus of Lyons

VI. By Date of Feast
[Feast days without asterisks are the feast days on the current Latin calendar, ignoring local variations; feast days with asterisks are the feast days on some Eastern Catholic, usually Byzantine, calendars, where they differ from the Latin feast days. Many of the saints have feast days that are not here listed, due to local calendars or the calendars of religious orders. The number in square brackets is the number of Doctors celebrated in that month on the Roman Calendar.]

January [5]
1 Basil the Great *
2 Gregory Nazianzen
2 Basil the Great
13 Hilary of Poitiers
14 Hilary of Poitiers *
18 Athanasius of Alexandria *
24 Frances de Sales
25 Gregory Nazianzen *
28 Ephrem the Syrian *
28 Thomas Aquinas

February [2]
18 Leo the Great *
21 Peter Damian
27 Gregory of Narek

March [1]
12 Gregory the Great *
18 Cyril of Jerusalem

April [3]
4 Isidore of Seville
21 Anselm of Canterbury
29 Catherine of Siena

May [3]
2 Athanasius of Alexandria
10 John of Avila
25 Bede
27 Bede *

June [4]
9 Ephrem the Syrian
13 Anthony of Padua
15 Augustine *
27 Cyril of Alexandria
28 Irenaeus of Lyons

July [3]
15 Bonaventure
21 Lawrence of Brindisi
30 Peter Chrysologus

August [3]
1 Alphonsus Liguori
20 Bernard of Clairvaux
28 Augustine
23 Irenaeus of Lyons *

September [5]
3 Gregory the Great
13 John Chrysostom
14 John Chrysostom *
17 Hildegard of Bingen
17 Robert Bellarmine
30 Jerome

October [2]
1 Therese of Lisieux
3 Therese of Lisieux *
15 Teresa of Avila

November [2]
10 Leo the Great
15 Albert the Great

December [4]
4 John Damascene
7 Ambrose of Milan
14 John of the Cross
21 Peter of Canisius

VII. Various Comments

There are thirty-seven Doctors of the Church. Ten are Eastern (Irenaeus, Hilary, Athanasius, Ephrem, Basil, Cyril of Jerusalem, Gregory Nazianzen, Cyril of Alexandria, John Damascene, Gregory of Narek); the rest are Western.

There are three Carmelites (Teresa, John of the Cross, and Therese), two Jesuits (Canisius and Bellarmine), three Dominicans (Thomas, Albert, Catherine (Tertiary)), four Franciscans (Anthony, Bonaventure, Lawrence, Francis de Sales (Tertiary)), one Redemptorist (Liguori), and five or six Benedictines (Isidore [maybe], Bede, Anselm, Bernard, Hildegard, Peter Damian).

There are four laypersons, all of them women (Hildegard, Catherine, Teresa, Therese), three of whom were nuns (Hildegard, Teresa, Therese). There are twenty bishops, of whom two were Patriarchs of Rome (Leo, Gregory), two Patriarchs of Alexandria (Athanasius, Cyril of Alexandria), two Patriarchs of Constantinople (Nazianzen, Chrysostom), and one Patriarch of Jerusalem (Cyril of Jerusalem). There is no Patriarch of Antioch with the title. There is one deacon (Ephrem).

The period in which the most Doctors of the Church were added most quickly was the period from 1920 to 1931; in those eleven years, five saints were given the title. The Popes who proclaimed the most saints 'Doctor of the Church' were Leo XIII and Pius XI, with four each.

Monday, February 21, 2022

Kant's Categorical Imperative

 Somehow a USB got corrupted at some point (by causes I do not know) and I had to start retyping some of my class handouts whose electronic back-up copies I could not find (for reasons I do not know). In any case, it gives me a chance to do some minor revisions. Since I'm doing the work anyway, I thought I'd put up one or two as I get to them; and that way I'll always have a copy here, as well, while they might be helpful to people who are interested in the topics.


Categorical Imperative

Act only according to that maxim whereby you can at the same time will that it should become universal law.

A ‘maxim’ is a “subjective principle of acting”; it is the rule someone makes in a decision that is based on their own circumstances and conditions.

Kant also summarizes this as: Always choose in such a way that the same willing includes the maxims of our choice as a universal law.


Act as if the maxim of your action were to become through your will a universal law of nature.

‘Nature’ in its broadest sense means everything that is determined by universal laws, so this formulation emphasizes universality.

Kant also summarizes this as: Act on maxims that can at the same time have for their object themselves as universal laws of nature.

Act in such a way that you treat humanity, whether in your own person, or in the person of another, always at the same time as an end and never simply as a means.

An absolutely universal moral principle would have to be based on something whose existence is of absolute worth or value (something that could function as an ‘end in itself’); this must be value for every rational being precisely because they are rational. The only thing that can have worth for every rational being in this way is rational nature itself. Another way to put it: The only end that can be proposed by a moral law supposed to legislate for all rational beings in all possible circumstances is that which concerns an end for all rational beings in all possible circumstances. The only such end is rational nature itself.

This formulation emphasizes the maxim. The categorical imperative requires restricting our maxims so that they conform to universal law; this formulation recognizes that doing so requires only allowing maxims in which rational nature is always paramount.

Act according to the maxim of a universally legislating member of a merely possible kingdom of ends.

To recognize yourself as being an end in yourself, you must recognize that you, as a rational being, are legislating universally for all rational beings, independently of any interest or incentive.

‘Autonomy’ is legislating for oneself; it is the opposite of ‘heteronomy’, receiving one’s laws from another. The only law that could be universally valid for all rational beings is the kind of law that rational beings legislate for themselves as rational beings. The only permissible actions, therefore, are those consistent with the autonomy of a rational will.

By ‘kingdom’ is meant a society of different rational beings united by common laws. Since each rational being, as rational being, legislates universally for all rational beings, one can think of a kingdom whose members are each autonomous legislators who are able to be united because they are all willing the same law; and for this law to be universal, it would have to treat rational nature as an end in itself. Such a society would be a ‘kingdom of ends’. It is said to be ‘merely possible’ because we are not talking about a society that already exists, but only a society that we choose to form by our actions.

Worth is determined by law. Because rational beings are self-legislating ends in themselves, and thus are the source of law, they have absolute worth. This absolute worth is called ‘dignity’, a pricelessness such that nothing else can be substituted for them as having equal or greater value. The only correct attitude toward something with dignity is respect. It is because they have dignity that we call human beings ‘persons’.


Kinds of Heteronomous Moral Principle

Kant thinks most attempts at ethics fail because they try to base it on a moral principle that guarantees heteronomy (reason has to serve something other than its own imperatives). He considers several families of such failed ethics:

Empirical (based on happiness) 

 Private Happiness 

 Moral Sentiment (which somehow connects us to a general happiness)

Rational (based on perfection) 

 Divine Will 

 Abstract Relations of Perfection

Kant tells us that, while they all fail, they are not all equal failures. Moral sentiment is a better candidate than private happiness and relations of perfection are a better foundation than will, because trying to base morality on private happiness or divine will weakens the force of moral law. Relations of perfection are a better foundation than moral sentiment because using relations of perfection as a foundation recognizes the centrality of reason. None of these, however, are capable of being a real foundation for morality; they all separate the source of moral law from the rational being who is supposed to follow moral law, which is heteronomy. The true ethics, Kant holds, must be an ethics of autonomy, that is, reason giving the moral law to reason.

Sunday, February 20, 2022

A Taste in Universes

 We are all, very properly, familiar with the idea that in every age the human mind is deeply influenced by the accepted Model of the universe. But there is a two-way traffic; the Model is also influenced by the prevailing temper of mind. We must recognise that what has been called 'a taste in universes' is not only pardonable but inevitable. We can no longer simply dismiss the change of Models as a simple progress from error to truth. No Model is a catalogue of ultimate realities, and none is a mere fantasy. Each is a serious attempt to get in all the phenomena known at a given period, and each succeeds in getting in a great many. But also, no less surely, each reflects the prevalent psychology of an age as much as it reflects the state of that age's knowledge. Hardly any battery of new facts could have persuaded a Greek that the universe had an attribute so repugnant to him as infinity; hardly any such battery could persuade a modern that it is hierarchical.

[C. S. Lewis, The Discarded Image, Cambridge UP (1995) p. 222.]